Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there, My name is Susie Q Aranda and I’m the owner of Garage Gym Barbell Apparel. I design pretty things for strong women right in my garage. Providing tees, leggings and more for women of all sizes including our stronger plus size lifters. In addition, I also offer free garage gym workouts to follow at home and if you’re local; in person only women strength classes.
I believe that anyone, anywhere, at any level is capable of starting or continuing their fitness journey…even in their home garage! That's where Garage Gym Barbell began and has continued to grow.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Garage Gym Barbell Apparel has been a journey starting with me personally. Some of us have that “one day” where we wake up and decide we are ready to make a life change and never look back. My “one day” came 8 years ago. Very unhealthy, overweight and desperately needed to get myself healthy; I set a goal that I would lose weight and be healthy and never looked back. From that moment I have stayed the course and made that goal something that my business was built around.
Some of the things I accomplished in my personal journey; yoga instructor, Zumba instructor, Crossfit level 1 & 2 certificates, NASM personal training certificate. My biggest accomplishment was getting California State records in the United States Powerlifting Association for a 341lb squat and a 419lbs deadlift at age 44 years.
Start small with what you have and grow at a pace that allows you to be ready for bigger things to come.
All of this transferred in the passion to help other women. Some like me who have never been active but ready to make changes in their life and others looking to be strong. In 2015, I created an at-home gym and invited women to come train with me.
As my at-home clients grew, I decided to have a shirt designed and printed with the help of one of the members in my gym, Becca Lemar, a freelance graphic designer. The plan was to only print them for our local ladies but the logo was so badass that I started getting online inquiries from others to purchase one for themselves.
The idea was born, selling GGB gear online. Along with this idea came many questions.. "Could I sell these online?", "What do I call the apparel line?", "How do I even start?", and "How do I fund GGB?"
I had no clue of where to start with zero experience with an online store, design, printing, or which garment to choose....but Becca, my graphic designer, did know all about some of these things. We decided to partner up!
My small gym at the time was called "The Garage Gym"..pretty creative right ha! Becca and I tossed around the idea of creating a new unique name for the apparel that didn't limit our connection and sales to only those who own a "garage gym". In the end, we made the decision to name the new apparel line "Garage Gym Barbell Apparel". The name fits with our business plan to provide strength programming and monthly workouts to anyone that needed it and it was the source of our motivation for creating the apparel line.
However, the name was an obstacle. We received comments and messages often that they loved our shirts but they don't work out in their garage. Over time our main mission statement "strength is for everyone no matter where they train" would shine through and "everyone" would feel welcome to wear our gear.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Becca and I decided that we could both invest $500 each to start. A few of the initial costs included.. sellers license for $30 + notary fees, set up an online store with Shopify for $29/mth & GoDaddy $14 for our domain name. We needed an IG account and decided to use switch my personal IG to our new Garage Gym Business account. We started with 1100 followers (half of them being my personal friends & family). If you scroll far enough you'll see my old training videos...eeeh.
Funds were low so we relied on only IG & Facebook posts for our marketing. The hype was slow but it was working. We gained around 10-15 new followers each week and made sure to appreciate the hell outta them!
With the money we had left, we were able to buy a small number of tanks & tees and have a couple of different designs. Becca was able to keep the cost low by printing them for us.
Now that we had a few tanks & tees printed it was time to sell them. Being a photographer in a past life, I set up a photo shoot with anyone who would offer their time. We created good quality photos of real women wearing our new gear to post on IG.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I wish I could say our first year was filled with lots of sales and profit but it was filled with lots of learning and just enough sales to create a new design every 2-3 months with a few restocks. We didn't pay ourselves a dime in the first year. Any small profit was put back into furthering the business. Zero, nada, nothing paid to either of us.
Powered by all passion at this point, it was becoming worth it. So many connections were made with women around the world!
Our dynamic worked so that I handled all the social media, packaging, shipping, etc & Becca took care of getting our ideas into designs and the printing. After a few months, we made the choice to outsource the printing. Becca was already a business owner of a full-time freelance design company with clients that needed her main attention. Soon Becca needed to stop designing for GGB and focus on her own growing business. After all, 1 year later and we still haven't paid ourselves a dime (more on that next) so I fully understood why my partner needed to move on.
How do I go on without my partner? Moments of fear took hold of me and I wasn't sure if I could do it on my own but I wasn't going to let GGB go by the wayside. I enrolled in school at 43 years old as a graphic design student.
Why didn't I hire someone to design for me? Graphic design is an invaluable tool in any business. It's needed from simple daily posts to weekly emails. I wasn't even paying myself so I didn't know how I could afford to hire the graphics out. I was living on a prayer until I learned how to design them myself.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Fast forward 8 months later I acquired "enough" skills to design the graphics for GGB and took over the printing. Now GGB was a one-woman show!
I made so many newbie mistakes. All the ideas in my head were finally able to be made into graphics with these newly acquired design skills. I went overboard and printed every idea I had in mind. The reality, some of them should've been timed better OR not printed at all. It was a learning curve for me.
Sales, sales, sales are the moving factor for keeping GGB alive. So I had to ask "How do I make money doing what I love?"
The printing was once again moved into the garage to save on printing cost, fine-tuned my ideas and timing of releases, raised the prices slightly and stopped giving away so many shirts. Ugh! I love making things affordable & giving away free shirts, so restraint was needed but it was necessary to keep the business going.
Email marketing became one of the ways to reach my clients and a source of income. Staying in touch with those who subscribe proved to be a great way to share new releases, sales and provide valuable information. I use MailChimp for my emailing and it’s been an easy & seamless program.
The most valuable thing is to make genuine personal connections with my followers. Each day I invest time to “like” and/or “comment” on as many followers as I can. This can be a little overwhelming, but some of the biggest GGB fans started from a small comment from me.
February 2019 was the month I planned to pay myself a small amount of $400. My instinct was to reinvest that $400 back into the business, but I stuck to the plan. Each month thereafter I increased the amount by $100 until reaching $800.
Paying myself $800 each month doesn't sound like much huh, but wow it felt really good going from $0 to $800. In addition to paying myself, I created a budget to reinvest $800 for future business goals (not listing normal operating numbers and cost of shirts and printing) and a $500/month equipment bill I acquired to open the new small gym.
It all sounds very small time and not an overnight success business. This is the reality of building my legacy. It's taken time, many hours of learning and pure devotion into my passion. The goal is to eventually pay myself a salary to match my husband's in the next 2 years.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today GGB is thriving! The company has consistently made $7k in sales for the last 6 months and I’ve been able to add workout leggings to shop. This is very exciting because, since day one, I’ve been asked to provide them. I’m still paying myself only $800 but I’ve invested in booth displays and more to promote the company. I’m hoping that in 2020, I’ll be getting a raise!
Some things have changed with the growth of the company. I’m no longer able to keep up on the volume of printing all in house. The shirts are now being sent out for screen printing and only packaged from GGB. This will be freeing up so much of my time so that I can develop more of the social media growth and add another selling platform on Etsy.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of my biggest learning curves is the strategic timing of new releases. Initially, I was so eager to get a new design up in the shop that I would lose sight of timing it right. For example, I’ve found that If I create anticipation and then release items at the first of the month. Sales are higher rather than at random times.
In addition, I added a monthly subscription called “The Barbell Club”. Members receive a monthly tee or tank and starting in 2020 it will include specialty items like leggings, sports bras, and more. This has helped build a devoted following and lots of excitement for each release. It has also helped to keep a small consistent income for GGB.
I didn’t get what I wanted right away. I wanted a +$10k sales business in the first year but the growth was slow. In hindsight, it was the perfect speed of growth. Each month I learned how to connect more, price point better, design better, and appreciate the journey more.
Connect and be genuine to your followers & customers. I want to provide so much value to those supporting GGB that they feel proud to be a part of the Tribe!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My apparel is primarily ordered from Alphabroder wholesaler. They have many companies under one roof. I’ve recently started purchasing from Orangeshine for smaller items that are extras in packages like beanies, leg warmers, and headbands. I like to surprise the Barbell Club subscription members with these items to keep increasing the value of the membership.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Currently, my biggest inspiration comes from the podcast “The Battle Axe”. He inspires me by his own business journey starting from nothing to creating a gym atmosphere of loyalty, respect, and all-around badasses.
I also find David Meltzer’s advice always helpful... In my own words I interpret this message - Give honestly and be genuine, it will come back if you’re ready to receive it.
And one of the most influential people in my journey is my own Powerlifting Coach, Ken Wheeler. He trains his athletes for free (of course you have to earn this right) and asks in return only hard work and commitment. I’ve asked myself, why would someone offer their time free of charge? The effect it creates is respect, commitment from those receiving and it creates a ripple effect. Those in his gym give freely to others. I use this “give freely” in my business as well. I give my time, experience, and sometimes love freely to those in my own gym and extend to those online that follow Garage Gym Barbell. It’s created a bond I call “Sister of Iron” and there is no greater feeling.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My first advice is to be passionate about what you’re offering. If passion is lacking, your followers will sense it. Your new venture is going to be WORK and if you’re not excited to stay up late designing, printing, packaging, and talking to new clients... It may fail.
Start small with what you have and grow at a pace that allows you to be ready for bigger things to come.
Be loyal to those that follow you. These are your people. Their follow, like, & comment helps further your business... Never forget this.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I hope to add a paid employee or more in the next year but I currently have the best Tribe of women in my circle who offer their time willingly to help GGB. Of course, I keep them stocked with all the GGB gear I can!!
I am currently looking for Blog writers that are willing to write 1-2 articles a month in return for bragging rights and GGB gear. ;)
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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